Cleft palate is a type of birth defect that results when the roof of the baby’s mouth (palate) develops abnormally in pregnancy, causing a cleft (opening). The cleft may go through as far as the nasal cavity, depending on the severity of the defect.
A cleft can form on any part of the palate, including the front part of the roof of the mouth (hard palate) or the small flap of tissue that hangs down from the soft palate (uvula). It may appear by itself or along with other birth defects of the face and skull, such as a cleft lip.
Many people believe cleft palate is a problem seen only in third world countries, as the frequency of this defect is considerably higher in areas such as these, where adequate nutrition and prenatal care may not be easy to access. However, cleft palate is certainly not isolated to poorer countries. In fact, doctors are still not sure of exactly what causes cleft palate, but they are aware that certain factors can increase the likelihood of a pregnancy resulting in this defect, including:
- Use of certain medicines during pregnancy - Use alcohol or illegal drugs during pregnancy - Smoking during pregnancy - Exposure to radiation or infections during pregnancy - Having a family history of cleft palate
What complications can result from cleft palate?
Complications largely depend on where the cleft is located. For instance, a small cleft located in the soft palate will likely cause more issues than a larger one that’s easier to see. Problems resulting from cleft palate can include issues with speech, feeding, ear infections, and self esteem if the cleft isn’t corrected.
How is cleft palate treated?
Cleft palate is generally treated surgically, and is ultimately very correctable if action is taken early in life to correct the defect. The surgery is generally scheduled when the child is between 12 and 18 months old. Most surgeries are extremely successful and with additional treatment (including additional surgeries as the child grows), the problem is usually fixed by the time the child is a teenager. Although there can be scarring from surgery, most people treated for cleft palate go on to lead normal lives. There are plastic surgeons who specialize in treating those affected by a cleft palate, which can keep scarring and other noticeable differences to a minimum.
Children with cleft palates need special attention when it comes to dental care. If you have questions about keeping a child’s mouth healthy when they have been diagnosed with cleft palate, give our Ann Arbor dental office a call at 734-677-2156 for more information, or to schedule an appointment for a consultation.